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Push-to-talk or why I can’t hear a word you are saying

March 23, 2015

You know how to communicate. I know you do. You listen. A lot. You choose your words carefully. You acknowledge other points of view and then respectfully offer your own perspective. And then?


Nobody even acknowledges that you have spoken let alone engages with your contribution to the conversation. But why?

A push to talk buttonIn the work I do developing the capacity of virtual teams we use a program that is configured just like a walkie-talkie. You have to push a button when you are talking if you want other people to be able to hear what you say.  With many people on-line it removes a lot of the distractions of background noises. Some participants find it frustrating and some will show up to the initial sessions with the system configured to “voice activated” – which means that whenever they say something their words are transmitted to everyone. They prefer it that way. It is “easier” for them. Others will hold the button down continuously just in case they have something they want to say. It has the opposite effect because the feedback it creates makes it more difficult for anybody to hear anything that is said.

For me there are  clear parallels with personal styles and communication challenges in the workplace. There are some people who believe that every sound they utter should be heard by everyone in the team. And there are times when we all have had the experience of speaking and seemingly not being heard. Communicating effectively can be frustratingly difficult.

I like the concept of push-to-talk functionality. Yes, I forget to push or sometimes I make what I think is a particularly insightful contribution only to realise I have been pushing on the wrong key and nobody heard me. It is frustrating but what it forces you to do is to think before you speak.

Inserting that extra step, the pressing of a particular key, into the process helps you to become more mindful of the fact that you are speaking and, for me, it prompts a consideration of the value of what I am intending to contribute to the conversation. It works both ways because it also makes me aware of the ways we use our voices to communicate that we are listening. Smalls sounds like “mmmm…”, “uh huh” and “yes…” that are a part of everyday conversations must be consciously transmitted. You have to push to talk to show you are listening as well.

As a result I am becoming much better at observing how we communicate, what works and what doesn’t work for myself and for the teams that we are working with.

You can too. You don’t need to buy walkie-talkies for everyone in your team – although I think you would be surprised at what you became aware of if you did. You can start by having a talking stick at your next meeting – you have to be holding the stick to be able to speak. Notice what happens to you when you have the stick (and “they” have to listen) but notice especially what you are feeling when you want the stick but someone else is speaking (and you “should” be listening). If not having the stick creates a mood of frustration it is a clear sign of a team that is intent on speaking and not on listening and that is a team that is not communicating.

Coming to that realisation is the easy part though. What you need to do next as a result of that knowledge can be difficult and challenging but it is critical that you do the work if you want your team to succeed.


If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. meganbtw permalink
    March 23, 2015 5:17 pm

    I have used this precise function for my “press-to-talk” presence in the Virtual Team sessions … I have made sure I pressed it to let the other person I heard and appreciated their humour. I “pressed-to-laugh.” I found it equally odd and delightful.

  2. Barbara permalink
    March 27, 2015 4:49 pm

    Out of curiosity, when you push, does it stop everyone else from talking?

    • March 27, 2015 6:08 pm

      No. It still allows people to talk over the top of one and other. Why do you ask?

      • March 27, 2015 7:48 pm

        I am very curious about how people know when to speak in large groups without being able to see body language. What are the cues to know when to speak? How is it in these situations that you have just spoken about – that the whole conversation doesn’t end up like my family at a big fat greek dinner? (ie – a whole lot of noise, multiple conversations and very difficult to hear)!!

  3. March 28, 2015 1:06 pm

    It can be noisy at times and when it is it can be difficult to hear. At other times there is complete silence as people wait for someone else to speak first and nobody does. That can feel worse than everyone talking at once! It all goes to help people become aware of just how complicate this thing we call “communication” can be.

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